Yes, it is time. What time is that? Time to go to deer camp, of course.
Many of you think this time of year will never get here, or at least you used to.
What has changed? Well, sadly (to me), a lot.
It is no secret that hunter numbers are down, and we have discussed this a lot here on my little soapbox. Some of us — yes, I am included in this — have lost some of our favorite hunting spots over the years. Things change, those we knew pass on, property is sold, and the fact that we hunted there for 40 or 50 years means little to new owners. It's just how it is.
Part of this equation is, of course, that those of my generation, the baby boomers, are aging out of the hunting scene. This is a fact of life as we age; some of us pass on, some just plain quit hunting, and others don't go near as much as we used to. The major problem here as far as hunter numbers go is that we are not being replaced by younger hunters in sufficient numbers.
But as usual, I digress. We were talking about going to deer camp.
There was a time when many hunters would no more think of missing the first week of the buck season than they would their daughter's wedding day. Deer camps were often made up from family groups, and this tradition lasted for years, with usually a senior member of the family acting as the boss of the camp, directing others in their duties and deer stand choices.
Hunters would usually (and thankfully many still do) arrive at camp a few days before the season opener to do chores, scout the area and get ready for the big week. (In my area, the first day of rifle buck season is the Monday prior to Thanksgiving.)
The weekend before the deer opener is a time of high excitement and anticipation. You can almost feel it in the air. Highways and interstates are lined with deer camp traffic. Everything from the Wally World to the little country store down the road from camp is jammed with hunters getting gas and groceries for the big week. (You don't want to run out of Little Debbie cakes at camp!)
As we have discussed here before, deer camp can be everything from the cabin your granddad and your two uncles built in the 1950s to a Korean War-era army tent set up near U.S. National Forest land or even a luxury cabin with TV, Wi-Fi, and a hot tub on the deck.
The old established deer camps from long ago are the ones that tend to grab our attention and make us long for the days we knew as a kid. The cabin is usually vintage wood or logs on the outside, and this may show some repair work that might not actually be up to the standards of Better Homes and Gardens. Inside, the walls may be lined with pictures of days of yesteryear and dads, granddads, uncles and cousins, some who may still be with us and some who may not.
There may be one wall with a collection of different material that turns out to be several shirt tails that have been cut off after the unfortunate wearer missed a shot at his buck. The shirt tail is usually taken in a long and excruciating ceremony (for the one losing the shirt tail) where the leader at camp addresses the painful story of the missed shot with much hooting and slander directed at the poor soul in the limelight.
The walls of the cabin will also have an array of deer heads and antlers from the past. As a kid, you would stare at these in wonder and wait for the day when you might actually take a buck that would make it on the camp wall. When that day comes, it will seem like a dream as you are congratulated by hunters young and old, making you the center of attention for a day.
It is a day you will remember the rest of your life.
What are the memories for you?
Was it the time the bear got into camp and tore down the stove pipe and you guys thought you were going to freeze to death until you got it fixed? What about the time nobody saw a buck for a solid week, but on the last day in camp, your uncle the cook shot a whopper right behind the camp with his apron still on? Do you not remember the year you got snowed in and everyone stayed three extra days and hardly got out of the camp?
So, are you going this year? I think you should. So what if the deer are plentiful closer to home, so what if you can't get on that land you used to hunt, who cares if you don't think there are any big bucks around camp?
It's deer camp. Go and relive the memories, take a kid or a new hunter, and introduce them to all of those things you lived for back in the day. Seeing all of the things about hunting and deer camp through their eyes, for the first time, will be a great experience for you, and your new hunter will never forget this moment.
Pass it on, my friend.
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at [email protected].